Saturday, January 16, 2010

God's children

I read a lot of expat blogs deploring the rampant racism and discrimination against foreigners by Koreans at large. But this is not true everywhere, and some people are so good to foreigners that it merits mention.

Religion is one of the big questions you may get here in Korea along with the standard "Where are you from? How old are you? Do you have a boyfriend?" Though I no longer practice, I figured it would just be easiest to tell my coworkers that I am Catholic, one of the big three Christian sects in Korea.

One of the teachers I used to work with drew me a map to the local Catholic Church so I could go on Christmas, but I couldn't find it. Then my boss searched it on the Korean equivalent of GoogleMaps and showed me the camera street view route how to walk there as well as which buses would take me. Last week they all asked if I'd gone, but I admitted I did not get up early enough. Anticipating the question again this week, I did get up early enough to go.

(My religion and beliefs are fluid and undecided since college. I'm not just going to church because of what others will think. I'm also going because it's a small comfort that reminds me of home. And because a friend recently helped me realized my only problem with Christianity is Catholic dogma, which is not necessary to celebrate mass. It's not like I really have anything better to do on a Sunday morning, and 10 a.m. is not early.)

It was a smallish church and much more simply decorated than that fancy one I went to on Christmas with big screens and lights and a huge soundboard. (One thing about me: I am offended by opulence in churches. I helped build a cinderblock church in Mexico, and any church that wastes money on things like fancy sound and light systems fit for Broadway productions when that money could have gone to an impoverished community disgusts me.)

One odd thing, every woman wore a white lace or embroidered veil on her head. Every one, save me. Back home, I've seen an old lady or two wear one from time to time, but today I really felt the odd one out (which I can handle), and I could only hope my bare golden locks didn't give offense. Also, everyone brings their own missal/hymnal in Korea. I wonder if I could find one in English in a book store in Seoul or something. While I'm sure English Bibles abound, an English version of the Catholic rotation of scripture might be a tricky thing to find.

In Korean mass, nobody holds hand for the "Our Father" or shakes hands for "Peace be with you." Instead they bow to one another. When it is time to donate, everyone lines up to drop money into baskets in front of the altar instead of passing the baskets around. And there was no wine for the congregation, only a small chalice for the priest. Where I genuflect, they bow. Where I dip my fingers in the holy water and make the sign of the cross when entering or leaving, they bow to the altar also and do not touch the water.

A sweet lady sat next to me and asked if it was my first time here (I said yes and she said, "Good for you") and translated a handful of things the priest said for me. After mass, she invited me to coffee downstairs with everyone and told me her English name was Scarlett, after Scarlett O'hara (sp?). As we drank coffee, she introduced me to her husband and asked if I liked ---. I asked her to repeat herself- it sounded like dog or duck. Do I like dogs? Yes, yes I do. Do I like duck? In fact, I do. I told her yes. She said "I will treat you." Momentary panic. Oh no, are we going to eat dog now? She led me to a table in the foyer and bought me a rice cake (deok). I actually happen to like those, too. They're mostly bland but a bit sweet with different nuts on top. She said I was so brave to come there by myself and she looks forward to seeing me next time, which I told her will be in two weeks because I am traveling next weekend.

God bless you, Scarlett. You've made my day and it's only just begun.

1 comment:

  1. That story put me in a good mood. I'm glad there are nice people out there.